Feb. 26, 2017
Morgan State University
By Archbishop William E. Lori
I am honored and delighted to offer Holy Mass here at historic Morgan State in this beautiful University Chapel. I would like to thank your president, Dr. David Wilson, Rev. Dr. Bernard Keels, chaplain, as well as Dr. Victor McCrary, vice-president for economic research and development . . . for their warm invitation to celebrate this Mass.
I have been told that I am the first archbishop to celebrate Mass on the campus of this university in its 150-year history. Well, I have been the archbishop of Baltimore for less than 5 of those 150 years . . . but I can promise you this: We won’t wait another 150 years to do this again, if you’ll have us back!
My visit takes place in the closing days of Black History Month. This gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to a rich and complex history, which the Archdiocese of Baltimore is privileged to share with Morgan State University and many other communities in the City of Baltimore. This history contains many stories of courageous and faithful leadership exercised against nearly incalculable odds. They are stories of leadership and service that cross denominational lines. They are stories of leadership and service that can help bring us together in these times marked by division and rancor.
The founding of Morgan in 1872 required courageous and faithful leadership. As you know, it began as the Centenary Biblical Institute – a Methodist Episcopal seminary to train young men in ministry; later, it broadened its mission to educate both men and women as teachers. None of this was easy in the atmosphere of the late 19th century, but the leaders of this institution persevered in advancing its mission. In 1939, the State of Maryland acquired the Morgan in response to a study that made it clear that Maryland needed to provide more educational opportunities for its black citizens. Today Morgan is one of the most recognizable historically black colleges in our nation; and it is also one of the finest public research universities in the United States.
And I am deeply grateful that the Archdiocese of Baltimore shares in the legacy of black history in Baltimore and beyond. In our history, just as in the history of Morgan, there are stories of courageous and faithful leadership in spite of many obstacles. I think of the worshippers who came together in 1793 to form St. Francis Xavier; by 1863 it had evolved into the nation’s first black Catholic parish. I think of the brave yet loving witness of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, a pioneer in the education of African-American children. Thanks to her leadership, St. Frances Academy was founded in 1828 and in 1829 she founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first community of Roman Catholic nuns of African descent. Some of the Oblate Sisters are with us today – let us take a moment to show them our love and appreciation.
In 1891 Charles Uncles, a native of East Baltimore, became one of the first black priests to be ordained in the United States. He was ordained in the Basilica of the Assumption in downtown Baltimore by Cardinal James Gibbons, the eighth Archbishop of Baltimore. Father Uncles was one of the founders of the St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart, better known to us as the Josephites. To this day, Josephite priests and brothers continue the work of ministering to the black Catholic community here in Baltimore and far beyond. Father Uncles and his fellow Josephites were “profiles in courage” as they went about ministering to the black Catholic community in an era marked by segregation and racism – scourges from which we never seem capable of extricating ourselves.
I would be remiss not to mention my predecessor, Lawrence Cardinal Shehan. Cardinal Shehan was a champion of the Civil Rights Movement. He attended the March on Washington in 1963 and sat next to Dr. Benjamin Mays, President of Morehouse College, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He led the fight for open housing here in Baltimore, without regard for his own life – and he was threatened on more than one occasion because of his courageous stance. One of the great honors of the cardinal’s life was receiving an honorary doctorate from Morgan State in 1963 for his work on racial equality.
Cardinal Shehan founded the Archdiocesan Urban Commission in 1966 to address race relations, community development, prisons, & homeless shelters – and then he labored to make the Catholic Church more relevant and active in a troubled city in a troubled nation. The Cardinal chose as the first chair of that important commission Mr. Charles Tildon – indeed he was the first layman to head a major archdiocesan post. Charles and his wife, Louise, who passed away recently, were faithful Catholics and champions for Baltimore and for blacks and for black Catholics. Their legacy will be felt for generations and we should never stop remembering what they did to bring Baltimore and its people closer together in the Lord’s name.
And as this Black History Month draws to a close let us not forget those who continue to write this history every day, including so many of my brother priests and religious of whom I am so proud, as well as many excellent Catholic lay leaders and community activists, educators, healthcare professionals, counselors and many others. They are a force for good in some of our city’s most challenged neighborhoods. And I am happy to say that Cardinal Shehan’s vision lives on in the large and active presence of the Catholic Church and her ministries in our city.
And what is the golden thread that unites all these stories of faith, courage, and determined leadership which we rightly celebrate? I think that golden thread can be found in this morning’s Gospel where four times Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives. He tells us not to worry about what we eat or drink or wear. He tells us that worrying won’t add a single moment to our lives. He tells us not even to worry about tomorrow. Who is in this chapel isn’t worried about today and tomorrow?! “Seek first,” Jesus says, “the Kingdom of God” – and all those things and more will be taken care of.
That’s the quality that made the leaders we celebrate great – the founders of this venerable institute of higher learning and research, the pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement, and the pioneers in black Catholic history – they sought first the Kingdom of God. In other words, God’s will, God’s justice, God’s mission was their top priority and from the heart of our loving Savior and in the power of the Holy Spirit they received the wisdom, the insight, the courage that unlocked their God-given abilities and marshalled them for a noble mission. When they heard Jesus say, “Do not worry” – they did not take that to mean that they should not care about what was going on all around them. It meant that they should believe in God with all their hearts and trust in the Lord and in his Word with every fiber of their being. This gave them the freedom not to think about themselves but to think about their brothers and sisters, to think about advancing the cause of racial and social justice and opening doors of opportunity for those who had been locked out.
May the lesson of their lives, reflected so clearly in today’s Gospel, not be lost on us. We continue to live in a city where there is so much work to be done, where barriers still exist, where opportunity is denied, where violence and hopelessness remain the order of the day. When we hear Jesus say, “Do not worry” – we cannot imagine he is saying to us, “Do not care! Be indifferent!” No, Jesus is calling upon me and upon you to seek first the Kingdom of God, to make as our first priority his will, his justice, his mercy, his mission. He is calling on us be forgetful of ourselves so that we will indeed be free – free to serve our brothers and sisters in his name, free to open doors, to foster unity & create an environment in all our neighborhoods where every family and every young person will have the opportunity to succeed. Brothers and sisters: together, let us seek first the Kingdom of God!
Read more from Archbishop Lori here.